Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Wish you were here

I NEVER ACTUALLY thought about how to kill myself. Still, there were more than a few nights when I went to bed not caring if I woke up in the morning. And when I did, I’d mentally count the hours I had to get through before I could climb into bed again and find some relief in sleep. Then I would tell myself I could do this one more time, and throw back the covers.

Life at home felt like being caught in a slow-motion train wreck. Life at work was like being tied to the tracks in front of an oncoming locomotive. The only relatively stress-free part of the day was the ten-minute drive between the two places. Sometimes I’d park and wait a while before taking a deep breath and walking in.

This wasn’t depression; I’ve known blue days, gray skies, and the growl of the black dog. This was colorless, whiteout despair.

If you’re there right now, this is a postcard from the other side: wish you were here. I’m not sending a beautiful photo to make you envious. Instead, I offer some brief observations that I hope may be some small measure of encouragement. Three things helped me get through the worst of times.

I narrowed my focus. So many things were beyond my control, I realized it was a waste of time worrying about them. I decided to give my attention only to what was right in front of me. When life seems to be ganging up on you, there’s a certain freedom that comes if you will embrace it. My daily mantra boiled down to this: Brush your teeth, show up, and try to have a good attitude. That was enough. And that was plenty.

I guarded my heart (and mind). When your peace is like a fragile work of art on a mantelpiece, you need to protect it from careless hands, curious cats, and careening Nerf bullets. I learned not to read certain emails or answer certain calls after mid-afternoon, because I would carry them into a sleepless night. They could wait until morning.

I also discovered that it’s possible to “take every thought captive to obey Christ,” as Paul urged in 2 Corinthians 10:5. It wasn’t easy at first; like many people, I was used to letting any and all thoughts just wander around in my head. But over time I developed the mental muscle I needed to tell unhelpful ideas, “No thanks.”

I acknowledged concern. I didn’t wear my heart on my sleeve, but some people caught a glimpse of it on my face. Stiff upper lip Britishness can’t always stop your chin from wobbling. I guess sadness can have a scent of its own. Some folks caught a whiff and asked if I was okay, offered a prayer, or murmured some encouragement. Their responses didn’t change anything materially. But they were a small reminder that, no matter how I felt, I hadn’t been entirely forgotten and overlooked. I chose to be grateful for those drops in the desert.

There was no magic wand, no magic bullet, no instant change. But these practices helped me through a long season of hopelessness, until the clouds started to part. When they did, I remembered that the sun had been there all the time, even if I couldn’t see it.

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